Thomas Aikenhead

Thomas Aikenhead
An artistic rendition of Aikenhead (1697), aged 20, hung for blasphemies against Christianity, e.g. speaking of Jesus as an impostor (see: three impostors), that Moses faked a genealogy, that the Old Testament is a variant of Aesop’s fables, etc. (Ѻ)
In existographies, Thomas Aikenhead (1676-1697) (EPD:FM|10) (FA:63) was a Scottish medical student, turned satirical and outspoken irreligionist, noted for []

Education
Thomas was the son of James Aikenhead, an Edinburgh surgeon-apothecary, and Helen Ramsey. The following, from Dilys Rose’s Unspeakable (2017), is a synopsis of Aikenhead’s early years: [5]

“A young Tom was very inquisitive. He wanted to know if more truth could be made by stretching the truth. Why, he wondered, did two of his sisters die in infancy. Why did the Lord need so many bairn? Do cats have souls, and if so, can cats go to hell? Tom's early upbringing included weekly churchgoing where the minister preached fire and brimstone. One May day, several families including Tom's skipped church, choosing instead, to picnic by the river. Church elders were sent to determine who the Sabbath breakers were. Tom's mother was made to stand on a stool of repentance in church for six consecutive Sundays and be publicly humiliated along with gamblers and fornicators. After losing both parents at a young age [age 10], Tom was sent to live with legal guardian, Sir Patrick Aikenhead. Thomas was deemed to be bright and well-mannered. Sir Patrick, demonstrating Christian charity, sent Tom to the University of Edinburgh.”

At age 17, in 1693, he enrolled at Edinburgh University. By then the University library held books by Rene Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, Charles Blount, and other so-called atheists. Moreover, while Aikenhead was a student, John Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious, and Michael Servetus' The Restoration of Christianity (Christianisimi Restitutio), which rejected (Ѻ) trinity and the concept of predestination, were added to the university library. It has been conjectured, by many, that he read some if not all of these works. [3]

Beliefs
Aikenhead, according to the trial reports of five student 'friends' appeared as prosecution witnesses, professed some variety of pantheism, albeit this term was not coined until 1705, and denied creation. [5]

Blasphemy | Trial
In c.1796, Aikenhead, circa aged 19, while a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, began venting about the nonsensical nature of religion. He was accused of blasphemy. He then confessed to all chargers and begged for forgiveness. On 8 Jan 1697, it was decided, by one vote, however, to execute Aikenhead, then aged 20.

Aikenhead, supposedly, was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy. (Ѻ)

Most of the material on Aikenhead was meticulously preserved by John Locke. [1]

Aikenhead’s trial and execution appeared in the fourth volume of Macaulay’s 1855 History of England. [2]

In 2016, a play on the Aikenhead event, entitled “I Am Thomas” (Ѻ)(Ѻ), in reference to the “I Am Charlie” slogan, in reference to the Charlie Hebdo shooting (2015), co-production by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, opened at the Liverpool Playhouse on Feb 19 and toured to Salford, Salisbury, Edinburgh, Inverness and London. (Ѻ)

Quotes | On
The following are quotes on Aikenhead:

“The killing of Thomas Aikenhead, like the hounding of Salman Rushdie for the same ‘offense,’ was a disgrace. . . a prime example of a god-fixated state killing a man in an attempt to stop the spread of an idea.”
— George Rosie (c.1999), The Scotsman [4]
Aikenhead award
A photo of Scottish Secular Society’s so-named “Aikenhead Award” (Ѻ) given to services to secularism.

Quotes | By
The following are quotes by Aikenhead:

“The Old Testament is Ezra’s fables, made by a profane allusion to Aesop’s fables, with which a cunning man [Moses] drew a number of Babylonian slaves to follow him, for whom he had made up a feigned genealogy.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) [1]

“The New Testament is the history of the impostor Christ who learned magic in Egypt and picked up a few ignorant blockish fisher fellows, playing pranks on them with his supposed miracles.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) [1]

“I thought a great part of morality, if not all, proceeded ex arbitrio hominum, as of that kingdom or common-wealth, or what most men think convenient for such and such ends, and these ends are always terminated upon being congruous to the nature of things; now we see that according to men’s fancy things are congruous or incongruous to their natures, if not to the body, yet to the thinking faculty”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) (Ѻ)

Theology is a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) [1]

“The scriptures are so stuffed with madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that one can only admire the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) [1]

Moses, if there ever was such a man, learned magic in Egypt, but was both the better artist and better politician than Jesus.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) [1]

“I reject the mystery of the trinity as unworthy of refutation; and I scoff at the incarnation of Christ.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696)

“I wish, when cold, to warm in hell.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (c.1696) (Ѻ) [4]

“It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure. So I proceeded until the more I thought thereon, the further I was from finding the verity I desired.”
— Thomas Aikenhead (1697) “Letter to Friend” (last words) morning, Jan 8 [4]

References
1. (a) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (pgs. 338-39). HarperOne.
(b) Thomas Aikenhead (quotes) – GoodReads.
(c) Thomas Aikenhead – Dictionary of Unitarian and Universality Biography.
2. Gordon, John. (1856). Thomas Aikenhead: A Historical Review, in Relation to Mr. Macaulay and The Witness. Edward T. Whitfield.
3. (a) Thomas Aikenhead – Dictionary of Unitarian and Universality Biography.
(b) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (pgs. 338-39). HarperOne.
4. Thomas Aikenhead – Dictionary of Unitarian and Universality Biography.
5. Rose, Dilys. (2017). Unspeakable (GR). Freight Books.

Further reading
● Graham, Michael F. (2008). The Blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead: Boundaries of Belief on the Eve of the Enlightenment (abs). Edinburgh University Press.

External links
Thomas Aikenhead – Wikipedia.

TDics icon ns

More pages