by Helen Fryman
Question: Are evolution and adaptation different?
Response: "Evolution" is such a broad term, simply meaning "change," that quite honestly it can be stated that adaptation qualifies as a type of evolution. However, when "evolution" is stated to the layperson, the concept is that one sort of organism--like a bacteria--through time, chance, mutations, and natural selection, becomes another sort of organism, like an elephant. If this is the sort of evolution being referred to, then adaptation is in a different category altogether.
Adaptation is the process whereby a series of variations already within a population gets winnowed down to the few that are best suited to any particular environment. This is not a matter of adding anything new to the genetic material of the population, but simply weeding out what is not working as well as some other variations. For instance, a population of bears which wandered north at some point gradually lost members with less fat, less aggressiveness, and darker fur, eventually leaving us with the white, aggressive, and fat-layered polar bears. There may have been some mutations or combinations which increased the fat or the aggressiveness or the lightness of color, but nothing which changed the essential "bear-ness" of the beast.
This is radically different from the type of evolution which posits that some kind of unicellular organism, through millions of mutations, became that bear in the first place.