This was a clash which has echoes with the modern debate between science and religion.
In addition to the Kelvin Scale of absolute temperature, for which he is usually remembered, his pioneering research in the fields of mechanical energy and mathematics proved vital in the task of laying the first transatlantic communication cable which connects Europe to America.
Kelvin was knighted in 1866 for his key part in this mammoth engineering feat.
He was also the first UK scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords and maintained that his life-long Christian faith supported and informed his scientific work.
Who was Lord Kelvin?
Kelvin was born William Thomson in Belfast on 26 June 1824, moving to Scotland when his father, James Thomson, was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Glasgow in 1832.
Kelvin himself became a professor at the University of Glasgow in 1846 and in a 53 year career his scientific achievements were many and diverse.
He married childhood sweetheart Margaret Crum in 1852, but her health broke down on their honeymoon and for the next two decades Kelvin was distracted by her suffering, with his wife dying in 1870.
Kelvin would eventually remarry. He met Fanny Blandy in Madeira in 1873. In May 1874 he returned to Madeira. As he approached the harbour, Kelvin allegedly signalled to the Blandy residence "will you marry me?" and Fanny signalled back "yes". The couple married the following month.
Reconciling faith and science
Kelvin believed science must be treated with reverence, as he explained:
"I have long felt that there was a general impression that the scientific world believes science has discovered ways of explaining all the facts of nature without adopting any definite belief in a Creator. I have never doubted that impression was utterly groundless."