The relationship between phylogenetic reconstruction and evolutionary theory is reassessed. It is argued here that phylogenies, and evolutionary principles, should be analysed initially as independently from each other as possible. Only then can they be used to test one another. If the phylogenies and evolutionary principles are totally consistent with one another, this consilience of independent lines of evidence increases confidence in both. If, however, there is a conflict, then one should assess the relative support for each hypothesis, and tentatively accept the more strongly supported one. We review examples where the phylogenetic hypothesis is preferred over the evolutionary principle, and vice versa, and instances where the conflict cannot be readily resolved. Because the analyses of pattern and process must initially be kept separate, the temporal order in which they are performed is unimportant. Therefore, the widespread methodology of always proceeding from cladogram to evolutionary ‘scenario’ cannot be justified philosophically. Such an approach means that cladograms cannot be properly tested against evolutionary principles, and that evolutionary ‘scenarios’ have no independent standing. Instead, we propose the ‘consilience’ approach where phylogenetic and evolutionary hypotheses are formulated independently from each other and then examined for agreement.