PETERSBURG, Ky. — When Creation Museum founder Ken Ham steps onto a stage Tuesday night with Bill Nye — yes, the "Science Guy" himself — more than 1 million people could be watching online.
The debate will be part science, part circus and pure spectacle, arguing the origins of humankind from this remote hamlet, with true believers of both stripes hanging on to every zinger Ham and Nye can sling.
It's also likely to be the biggest public splash in the two-decade history of Answers in Genesis, the creationist ministry that Ham helped start and still leads.
Seven years after it opened the Creation Museum, Answers in Genesis remains a lightning rod for controversy, visitors and cash.
The ministry has attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the Creation Museum and still plans to spend more than $60 million on a Noah's Ark biblical theme park in Grant County, about 40 miles from the museum.
For Ham, Tuesday's debate will be nerve-wracking, a public examination that the soft-spoken Australian says he would never have imagined.
"A little fear and trepidation, a little stress," Ham, 62, said in an interview. "It's really become something none of us thought it would."
Ham and his followers have drawn scorn worldwide for insisting that their interpretation of the biblical story challenges the evolution of man accepted by scientists generations ago.
To those critics, exhibits showing people frolicking among dinosaurs make it a cartoon, not a museum.
"I say to the grown-ups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine," Nye said in a video posted online. "But don't make your kids do it, because we need them."
Neither man is likely to change any minds, and Ham said he won't feel any pressure.
"The way I work, I can do my best in convincing people because I don't have to do the convincing," he said. "God does the convincing."
The audience will spread far beyond the 900 people in the museum's auditorium, where the seats for the debate sold out in minutes.
Those registering for the debate's live online stream topped 800,000 two weeks before the event, for which the museum is paying Nye expenses plus a fee. The museum would not disclose the fee, but Nye's normal speaking fee is $50,000 to $75,000, according to Celebrity Talent International.
The two debaters have never met, although Creation Museum officials say Nye was seen outside the museum a few years ago, stopping to take a photo but never coming inside.
Museum officials contend Nye has "stepped outside of observational science" by claiming that teaching creationism is bad for children.
Ham knows that Answers in Genesis infuriates many. He's unconcerned about "attacks from the secular world" but acknowledges that criticism from churches bothers him.
"We're not a political action group," he said. "We basically see ourselves as an information-rich organization, and we're trying to get information out to the culture that in some ways has been
"We certainly believe students should be allowed to critically analyze evolution," he added. "You can't really believe both because it's not consistent with the Bible. You can't add millions of years to what the Bible teaches."
Ministry generates cash, jobs and controversy
Those beliefs have fueled controversy but also a real-life kingdom that spends $30 million a year, employs more than 300 people and attracts more than a quarter of a million people a year to the Creation Museum.
Visitors to the museum have dropped from 400,000 the first year after it opened in 2007, but Answers in Genesis has long demonstrated its ability to raise money.
According to the ministry's latest available tax return, covering fiscal year 2012:
Ham earned total compensation of about $176,626 that year.
The group spent $799,201 with an Indiana-based advertising agency and more than $1 million combined with two printing companies. That included $427,234 paid to Bramkamp Printing in Blue Ash.
Staff members included four of Ham's children, two spouses of children and his brother, earning salaries ranging from $20,000 to $67,000 a year.
Seminars and speaking engagements earned $1.4 million, drawing total attendance of nearly 130,000 people.