This answer was deleted:

It said:

There is no evidence that any of the fragments are authentic fragments of the True Cross.

What reference could I possibly include that shows that no evidence exists? It seems that requiring a reference for this answer makes the question unanswerable.

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We've reversed the burden of proof here on this site compared to the common expectation by Skeptics. We require our answerers to disproof even far-fetched claims, while Skeptics generally argue that such claims require some proof to be even taken seriously. This leads to some problems for certain kinds of claims, but I would argue that it generally improves the quality of our answers and it is worth it to endure the inconvenience.

In cases where we have to proof the absence of evidence, there are a few ways to do that convincingly:

  • Cite a source that investigated the issue and came to a negative conclusion
  • Perform a literature search yourself and come to a negative conclusion. This requires the answerer to supply enough information for the readers to replicate the literature search.
  • Find a logical or scientific argument that casts significant doubt onto the claim. This works for example for claims that violate the basic laws of physics.
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  • Okay, I'm taking the second route you mentioned. I'm also linking to the sources I've read through so that readers can replicate the literature review. – user5582 May 9 '13 at 20:05

The purpose of a good answer is to allow people to update their beliefs to hold more true beliefs than they had before reading the answer.

Why should someone who does believe that parts of the True Cross exists, change his belief after reading your answer?

If you can't answer that question by providing evidence that might convince a person who's willing to question his own beliefs than your answer is worthless.

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What is the historians' consensus on this subject (if there is a consensus)?

Normally if a subject has been approached, and I am quite confident that the fate of the Holy Cross has been studied, the results are published on appropriate peer-reviewed journals.

There's a long list of historical peer-reviewed journals here: Directory of History Journals

Here's an example reputable journal which is likely to have approached the subject: Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture

Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture is published quarterly by Cambridge University Press for the American Society of Church History

In conclusion: I am very doubtful that there is no evidence to present in this case. At the very least we could present and review the evidence of museums or churches that claim to have pieces of the cross. In no case a one liner should ever be anything more than a comment.

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  • I will include those in my literature review. – user5582 May 9 '13 at 20:31

If that was the total content of your answer, then I completely agree it is unreferenced and not a valid answer.

For a question that asks "are there any...?", in order to answer "no", you would need to reference some basis for that. A proper basis for "no, no authentic fragments are known to exist" would involve at least some demonstration of research, showing that you've looked at enough evidence (either specific claims, or works authored by others who have put time and effort into investigating such claims).

Examples of what I'd consider acceptable "no, there aren't any..." answers:

  • "Dr. Rand M. Name documented a 17 year investigation of this subject. During that time, he looked at 147 documented claims, and was unable to find any verifiable evidence for any of them"
  • "I searched throughout the online journal of x, and could find not one single mention of any verified instances of y. I also looked here, here, and here. It seems that no reputable evidence of y exists."
  • "According to this related study by Dr. Francine Q. Anonymous, in order for there to be x, y would also have to be true, yet her findings show that y doesn't occur in nature."

EDIT: Keep in mind that acceptable does not necessarily mean good. Listing references is the minimum required for an answer to be an answer. For it to be a good answer, it should be immediately obvious from the content of the answer why the references cited are relevant, and why the reference or references listed can be considered a sufficient volume of research from which a reasonable conclusion can be drawn.

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  • I guess that depends on where you looked. A google search for "true piece of the cross" would probably not count. Neither would "I checked ebay". See my second example for listing where you looked in a way that would sound acceptable (to me, at least). – Beofett May 9 '13 at 18:49
  • @Sancho I have added a bit to my answer, as I agree with the comments regarding your edited answer. – Beofett May 10 '13 at 13:53

The procedure is not EXACTLY the same, but it's slightly similar.

I came across this question about if Muhammad Ali said "...impossible is nothing...".

I never managed to conclusively and definitely prove it wrong, but after looking for quite a while I never managed to find any proofs of him actually saying it. So I went from the other end of it, to try and prove adidas made it (in your case that would be who made it up about the cross).

I found circumstantial evidence of it. Like the phrase appearing on google around same time as Adidas started with the ad. Wikiquotes not listing it, not finding it in any books before the adidas ad etc.

Even if you can't prove something wrong, you can at least give out several pointers of it probably being wrong, because of several circumstances.

In the cross question, it's quite a bit harder though, since it's so many years ago. Tracking down a quote from a person from modern written time is quite a bit easier, and that took me days.

TLDR; Try to find circumstantial evidence that strengthen your point if you can't find direct evidence. And be happy with saying it's improbable that it's true.

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