One of the delights of finding myself with a foot in both science and faith is that occasionally I get asked to do jobs which I would never otherwise have the opportunity to do, as the two worlds straddle in unique and exciting ways.

One such straddling came on April 11 when as a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry NI Committee, and an ordained minister, I was delighted to be asked to rededicate the grave of Thomas Andrews in Belfast City cemetery.

Thomas Andrews in the wider world today is possibly a relative unknown, but he was an exceptional academic and scientist in the 1800s.

Professor Andrews’ most notable discoveries included the science behind how fridges stay cold, and how cryogenics and cold temperature reactions are done today.

For his exceptional discoveries in the Nineteenth Century, he was made the first Vice-President of Queen’s University, Belfast, and was awarded the Royal Medal.

He was also an Anglican (a member of the Church of Ireland), and for a small local link, one of his direct descendants lives in County Fermanagh, and she is a frequent visitor in Trory Parish Church.

Dignitaries from the Royal Society of Chemistry, Queen’s University Belfast, and members of the Andrews family living in Comber today were part of this celebration, which also included unveiling a blue plaque to Thomas Andrews.

I should clarify – for fans of the Titanic – this is not the Thomas Andrews who was the draughtsman for Harland and Wolff, and who has been immortalised in various movies.

They have the same name, and are both from the illustrious Andrews family from Comber, but they are not the same person.

When I was putting the service together for the rededication of the Thomas Andrews grave, in collaboration with the Royal Society of Chemistry, the first thing which surprised me was the distinct desire from the RSC for this to be a religious celebration rather than a secular one.

In my experience here, and throughout my life, science is not trying to sideline the church.

In fact, because of how scientists have a unique ‘scientific faith’ perspective, the two camps are often a lot closer than we realise.

This was backed up on the day of the dedication when I was chatting to the Chief Executive of the RSC, the President of the RSC and a couple of Queen’s chemistry professors, and they kept using the same language to talk about research as I use to talk about faith.

The RSC President said when talking about how science and faith intersect for me, “Of course you are still a scientist ... science is not a degree, it is a way of life, and you are proving that.”

The same is true of faith. Both are ways of life, not just academic or mental exercises.

The disjunct between science and faith often surprises me as the disjunct comes from people of faith, more than people of science.

An atheist scientist friend of mine once said, “I totally get what faith is. I have faith every time I do an experiment, otherwise I wouldn’t start it.”

And she was right. Faith is the hope for that which we cannot see, and belief that it is true, or will become true.

A true experiment is doing something for the first time, rather than just repeating something which others have done before, and left instructions to follow.

A true experiment needs faith, or a belief that what has never been done before, can be done now.

All the evidence of work that has gone before points in that direction, but no one can be certain of the outcome, as this particular version has never been tried. That is faith, just in a different area of life.

When I was working in the lab, I made a lot of chemical compounds. The structure of these compounds was not visible to the naked eye, even under a microscope.

I had to rely on analytical techniques, which examined the compounds and gave a series of graphs.

I then had to interpret these graphs, and data sets from various sources, to say what the compound was, with a high degree of certainty.

I had to have belief that the data supplied, and the research which led to these machines being able to analyse my material, was correct, and to have faith that what I thought I had made was in fact correct, based on what the data showed.

Through the insightful eyes of an atheist colleague, I was able to see how much of a role faith plays in scientific research.

Perhaps when we talk about science and faith coming together, we should give more credit to the idea of scientific faith.

A belief in something which all previous experiments point towards, but has not yet been proven, drives all research.

This surely has similarities to the faith in the church. A belief in something which all our evidence points towards, which we put our faith and trust in.

Even if we cannot see it directly, those of us with faith know it exists.

Science and faith working in harmony can also be seen in a better-known Nineteenth Century scientist, Michael Farraday, a close friend of Thomas Andrews.

Farraday is best remembered for his work on electricity, and creating the electric motor. He was a Cambridge chemistry professor, and today his name is known for the Farraday constant or equation, which is (or at least was when I was at school) part of GCSE and A-Level syllabus.

His name is also still used for the prestigious academic chemistry journal, ‘Farraday Discussions’.

Interestingly, the journal ‘Farraday Discussions’ was born out of the letters written between Andrews and Farraday about their respective research interests on different sides of the Irish Sea.

These letters were on display as part of the Andrews grave dedication.

One final way Farraday’s name is remembered is Cambridge university’s ‘Farraday Institute for Science and Religion’, named after him because of his devout faith and immense scientific prowess.

As Andrews similarly was a practicing member of the Church of Ireland, I would love to peruse these letters to see if they ever discussed their faith, but alas, there are many days worth of reading in these letters, and they are not normally open to public viewing.

Thomas Andrews is remembered as an exceptional academic scientist by a Blue Plaque, a chair in the QUB School of Chemistry, and a room named after him in the David Keir Building.

To me however, he, along with his close friend Michael Farraday, serve as a reminder of just how close science and devotional faith actually are, especially in those with exceptional minds.

Scientific faith and devotional faith both lead to new and deeper understandings, and work exceptionally well in tandem.

As Hebrews 11:1 puts it, “Faith is hope in things unseen.”

This is true of both religious and scientific faith.

Rev. Mark is the Church of Ireland rector of Trory and Killadeas parishes.