Dogma is an English term transliterated in the 17th century from Latin (Latin dogma) meaning "philosophical tenet", derived from the Greek 'dogma' (Greek δόγμα) meaning literally "that which one thinks is true" and 'dokein' (Greek dokeo) "to seem good."
Dogma can be used in various senses. In a formal sense to refer to an official system of principles or tenets of a church, such as Roman Catholicism. In a less formal sense to refer to positions such as those of a philosopher, philosophical school. In a pejorative sense referring to enforced decisions, such as those of aggressive political interests or authorities. More generally it is applied to some strong belief that the ones adhering to it are not willing to rationally discuss. This attitude is called dogmatic or dogmatism and is often the case in religiously related matters, but is not limited to theist attitudes alone.
Formally, the term dogma has been used by some theistic religious groups to describe the body of positions forming the group's most central, foundational, or essential beliefs, though the term may also be used to refer to the entire set of formal beliefs identified by a theistic or non-theistic religious group. In some cases dogma is distinguished from religious opinion and those things in doctrine considered less significant or uncertain. Formal church dogma is often clarified and elaborated upon in its communication.
Christianity is defined by a set of core beliefs shared by virtually all Christians, though how those core beliefs are implemented and secondary questions vary within Christianity. When formally communicated by the organization, these beliefs are sometimes referred to as 'dogmata.' The organization's formal religious positions may be taught to new members or simply communicated to those who choose to become members, It is rare for agreement with an organizations formal positions to be a requirement for attendance, though membership may be required for some church activities. Protestants to differing degrees are less formal about doctrine, and often rely on denomination-specific beliefs, but seldom refer to these beliefs as dogmata.
For Catholicism and Eastern Christianity, the dogmata are contained in the Nicene Creed and the canon laws of two, three, seven, or twenty ecumenical councils (depending on whether one is "Nestorian", Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic). These tenets are summarized by St. John of Damascus in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which is the third book of his main work, titled The Fount of Knowledge. In this book he takes a dual approach in explaining each article of the faith: one, directed at Christians, where he uses quotes from the Bible and, occasionally, from works of other Fathers of the Church, and the second, directed both at members of non-Christian religions and at atheists, for whom he employs Aristotelian logic and dialectics.
The decisions of fourteen later councils that Catholics hold as dogmatic and a small number of decrees promulgated by popes exercising papal infallibility (for examples, see Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary) are considered as being a part of the Church's sacred body of doctrine.
In Islam the Latin terms dogma and dogmata are rarely used to describe the central doctrines in the Quran, Hadith, or aqidah.
The term "dogma" is sometimes used metaphorically, often disparagingly, to refer to a body of positions held in a non-religious contexts such as in politics and science.
A notable use of the term can be found in the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology. In his autobiography, What Mad Pursuit, Francis Crick wrote about his choice of the word dogma:
"I called this idea the central dogma, for two reasons, I suspect. I had already used the obvious word hypothesis in the sequence hypothesis, and in addition I wanted to suggest that this new assumption was more central and more powerful. ... As it turned out, the use of the word dogma caused almost more trouble than it was worth."