I wrote The Black Widow intending it to be the final episode in the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, but the MacDonald family said no. So I switched it to a private detective in Phoenix. But the two characters, Travis McGee and Colt Frazier, are essentially the same character with the same beliefs. Now that Curiosity, the Mars rover, seems to have found evidence of water on that planet, this conversation between Sarah and Travis seems fitting. While they are waiting for a phone call, Sarah pumps him about his religious beliefs:
"I’ve already told you," Sarah says, "I was raised a Baptist, but I haven’t been to church on a regular basis for a very long time. Max wasn’t willing to go with me, so I just quit going. How about you? What are your religious beliefs? What church were you raised in?"
I just looked at her, slowly shaking my head, a very small smile to lighten what might have been construed as a negative reaction. "My mother and father were both Catholic, but never very strict Catholics, and I was never raised with a lot of religious imperative or instruction. And after I left home, I became very much a lapsed Catholic. I could never understand the need for some intermediary between me and God, whatever sort of God there may be. Or even if there is a God. I’m not an atheist, but certainly an agnostic. I just don’t know if there is or isn’t a God. And certainly, if there is, he or she or it isn’t some deity in human form. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. Science tells us about the immensity of the universe, of the numbers of stars and star systems, too many to comprehend. How can we believe that we’re the only intelligence in this immensity? And how can we think some creator or creative force is looking down on us benevolently, waiting for us to grow up and come to our senses? I believe in the principles Christ taught, and in my own way I follow them to the letter. But I don’t need a church to govern me into following those principles."
She was watching me intently as I said all this, her mouth moving side to side as she concentrated on my words, her head sometimes nodding a bit, sometimes moving side to side. "So, you’re a Christian . . . sort of. And you’re not sure about the existence of God or, if one does exist, what form this creator might take. Is that it?"
"And you’re saying the inhabitants of this planet may not be the only intelligence in the universe?"
"I agree with that for the most part. But what makes you think we’re not alone? Are you thinking we may have some aliens, some green critters, one day come to call?"
I laughed. "Green critters, indeed. You’ve been brainwashed by too many bad science fiction flicks. I’m a realist and because science has convinced me that we, and our earthly home, are an infinitesimally tiny speck in the total scheme of things, I have to believe that somewhere out there, there must be a nearly limitless number of potential planets that sustain life that would develop on an evolutionary track similar to ours."
"Similar to ours? You mean that these potential planets would have intelligent beings like us? Not giant bugs or slimy slugs or . . . apes?" She was leaning forward, hands on knees. She wasn’t challenging what I was saying, just intent on understanding what I meant.
"Okay, I don’t mean that other forms couldn’t become the dominant species on one of these planets. But it seems logical to me that life can only begin on a planet with just the right conditions, like just the right temperatures and with the existence of water. Look at our own system and the planets we have. Earth seems to be the only one with these necessary conditions. No form of life could exist on Mercury, let’s say, or Venus from what the scientists tell us about conditions there. And most unlikely on any of those further out except Mars. I don’t think most people realize the philosophical implications of our discovering water on Mars. If it’s true, and that’s what they’re now saying, these scientists involved in the Mars missions, then they could also discover some form of microscopic life on Mars. That tells me that in the vastness of our universe, there would be many many solar systems with circling planets, some of which would have conditions similar to ours. And, therefore, not only the potential for life, the probability of life."