PETERSBURG, Ky. - For true believers of all stripes, Tuesday night was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Nine hundred people streamed into the Creation Museum for the debate between founder Ken Ham and Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" of television fame.
There was little hint of the worldwide livestream that organizers were hoping would attract as many as 1 million viewers online.
Yet the audience beyond Petersburg, Ky., apparently was large. The debate was a hot topic online; at one point the top four trending topics on Twitter, the social media site, were related to it.
"Science rules" read one T-shirt worn by a 12-year-old in the museum, with the sound of mechanized dinosaurs braying in the background.
Misty Brewer of Tulsa, Okla., said she has "traveled my journey to atheism." She drove 12 hours to bring her son to the "debate" and was getting in the car to drive back home immediately after it ended.
"I think the believers will stay believers," Brewer said. "No one's going to walk out of here saying, 'I changed my mind.' That's not going to work."
Tim and Diana Yokum of Akron, Ohio, listened quietly to dissenting views, but weren't swayed. They've been to the museum nearly half a dozen times.
"The Bible says God created man. It doesn't say evolved," said Diana Yokum. "I really believe those who believe in evolution will have their eyes opened tonight."
Ham and Nye stuck to their lines in prepared speeches that made this anything but a debate.
After five-minute opening statements, Ham and Nye had 30 minutes to offer arguments backed with photos and charts. "I feel like I'm in science class," WKRC-TV reporter Angenette Levy said on Twitter during Ham's presentation.
CNN reporter Tom Foreman acted as the moderator, although he rarely stepped into the debate. The audience was mostly silent, except for applause at the end of both presenter's arguments.
"Your assertion that there is some difference between the natural laws that I observe today and the natural laws of 4,000 years ago is extraordinary and unsettling," Nye told Ham.
He pointed out that kangaroos don't live in the Middle East, where Noah's Ark supposedly ran aground, or on the way to Australia.
Ham focused on "observational science," saying Nye couldn't be so certain about events he didn't witness.
"I challenge the evolutionists to admit the belief aspects of their particular worldview," he said.
"The battle (over creationism) is really about authority. It's about who is the authority, man or God," Ham said.
Tuesday's "debate" was the biggest public splash in the two-decade history of Answers in Genesis, the creationist ministry that Ham helped start and still leads. More than 800,000 had registered to watch the debate online.
In the seven years since the museum opened, it has attracted more than half a million visitors, and the ministry employs 300 people with a $30 million budget.
It still plans to spend more than $60 million on a Noah's Ark biblical theme park in Grant County, Ky.
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 last year in a video posted online. "But don't make your kids do it, because we need them."
The museum is paying Nye's expenses plus a fee. It 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 had never met before Tuesday, although Creation Museum officials say Nye was seen outside the museum a few years ago, stopping to take a photo but never coming inside.