We have a great moral crisis in this country, and it is only getting worse. The number of people who follow a moral code based on a divine authority continues to dwindle. Without a moral code, decisions move from "What is right or wrong" to "What can I get by with that will benefit me?" The result is an increase in Ponzi schemes, corrupt governance, and self-serving elected officials. Pass all the laws you want, but without a moral and religious people the future does not look bright.
Jim Yeagle, "What We are Missing," Barron's 92 No. 31 (July 30, 2003), 34.
It might be thought that the fallacy in this passage is an ignoratio elenchi or even a "red herring" fallacy. Briefly, the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi occurs whenever the conclusion of an argument is irrelevant to the premisses, in much the same way that irrelevancy occurs in the non sequitur fallacy. Usually, though, the non sequitur is thought of as a "formal fallacy" or one that occurs whenever a deductive argument is invalid; whereas, an ignoratio elenchi is one that is based, not on the grammatical form of the argument, but on its content or meaning and so is termed an "informal fallacy." The red herring fallacy, also an informal fallacy, occurs whenever the conclusion of an argument is a diversion from the subject of the premises of that argument. In the case of this argument, however, the general subject is not changed. so it would be an error to cite the fallacy in this passage to be a red herring.
On the one hand, the author of our argument above is reasoning from a premise about persons with a moral code based on divine authority to a conclusion about moral and religious people. So it might appear that the persons being referred to in the premises do not necessarily include the persons being referred to in the conclusion. That is, it might be thought that this difference is due to the fact that a moral person need not be a religious person. Thus, one might think the author is making the mistaken assumption either that religious people are necessarily moral people or that moral people are necessarily religious people or both, and if so, then a fallacy of irrelevant conclusion would occur. And the irrelevancy would have to do with the different composition of the kinds of people under consideration.
On the other hand, a supporter of this argument might claim that the class of "moral and religious people" is a suitable paraphrase for the class of "people who follow a moral code based on a divine authority" since, an essential feature of religions, Buddhism not withstanding, is the notion of a divine authority. And this judgment is justified by the conventional connotation of the word "religion" as can be determined by anyone with an English dictionary.
In the end, however, Mr. Yeagle’s argument is best seen by constructing the framework in a manner something like this:
Dwindling numbers of people who follow a moral code based on divine authority result in increased corruption.
An increase in corruption results in a not bright future. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Therefore, without moral and religious people the future is not bright.
Assuming that this non-standard form syllogism is a reasonable reconstruction, the validity of the argument turns on whether or not the phrase "moral and religious people" refers to two groups: the group of moral people and the group of religious people, or to one group: the group of morally religious people. Taking into account the context of the passage together with the principle of charity, I think we have to conclude that Mr. Yeagle clearly means the latter.
Hence, Mr. Yeagle's argument seems not to be formally fallacious. It appears to be a valid argument. Nevertheless, if there were so, one can still argue that the argument might not be sound because if morality, regardless of religion, dwindles, there will be an increase in corruption also. So, in this case, the first premise is false in that it is the decline in morality per se, not necessarily a morality based on a divine authority, which results in a dim future.
One of the interesting things about this argument is that from a formal point of view, the argument seems valid but not sound. And the reason for the unsoundness is actually the informal fallacy of division. Mr. Yeagle is reasoning from a characteristic of the whole of the class of "persons who follow a moral code based on divine authority" to a characteristic of the subclasses of "persons who are moral" and "persons who are religious." Since some moral persons are not religious persons, the informal fallacy of division occurs, given that Mr. Yeagle is assuming that the factor or religion is necessary connected to the brightness of our future.
And so, in the end, when the argument is viewed syllogistically, i.e., from a formal point of view, the formal fallacy would be termed the four-term fallacy. The ambiguity involved would be the fallacy of division since Mr. Yeagle is arguing that a property of the class of morally religious people deductively implies that that property also must belong to the class of moral people and the class or religion people.