Historical Humanists- Thomas Aikenhead

Thomas Aikenhead was a Scottish student from Edinburgh, who was prosecuted and executed on a charge of blasphemy. Aikenhead was indicted in December 1696. The indictment read:

“That … the prisoner had repeatedly maintained, in conversation, that theology was a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras: That he ridiculed the holy scriptures, calling the Old Testament Ezra’s fables, in profane allusion to Esop’s Fables; That he railed on Christ, saying, he had learned magick in Egypt, which enabled him to perform those pranks which were called miracles: That he called the New Testament the history of the imposter Christ; That he said Moses was the better artist and the better politician; and he preferred Mahomet to Christ: That the Holy Scriptures were stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them: That he rejected the mystery of the Trinity as unworthy of resutation; and scoffed at the incarnation of Christ.”

He further predicted that Christianity would be “utterly extirpated” by 1800.

The case was prosecuted by the Lord Advocate, Sir James Stewart (grandfather of the future Jacobite economist Steuart) who demanded the death penalty to set an example to others who might otherwise express such opinions in the future.

Aikenhead pleaded for mercy during the hearing and attempted to recant his views but was sentenced to death by hanging. On the gallows, he stated his belief that moral laws were devised by humans rather than divine.

Leave a Reply