Evolutionary relationships among organisms are commonly described by using a hierarchy derived from comparisons of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sequences. We propose that even on the level of a single rRNA molecule, an organism's evolution is composed of multiple pathways due to concurrent forces that act independently upon different rRNA degrees of freedom. Relationships among organisms are then compositions of coexisting pathway-dependent similarities and dissimilarities, which cannot be described by a single hierarchy. We computationally test this hypothesis in comparative analyses of 16S and 23S rRNA sequence alignments by using a tensor decomposition, i.e., a framework for modeling composite data. Each alignment is encoded in a cuboid, i.e., a third-order tensor, where nucleotides, positions and organisms, each represent a degree of freedom. A tensor mode-1 higher-order singular value decomposition (HOSVD) is formulated such that it separates each cuboid into combinations of patterns of nucleotide frequency variation across organisms and positions, i.e., "eigenpositions" and corresponding nucleotide-specific segments of "eigenorganisms," respectively, independent of a-priori knowledge of the taxonomic groups or rRNA structures. We find, in support of our hypothesis that, first, the significant eigenpositions reveal multiple similarities and dissimilarities among the taxonomic groups. Second, the corresponding eigenorganisms identify insertions or deletions of nucleotides exclusively conserved within the corresponding groups, that map out entire substructures and are enriched in adenosines, unpaired in the rRNA secondary structure, that participate in tertiary structure interactions. This demonstrates that structural motifs involved in rRNA folding and function are evolutionary degrees of freedom. Third, two previously unknown coexisting subgenic relationships between Microsporidia and Archaea are revealed in both the 16S and 23S rRNA alignments, a convergence and a divergence, conferred by insertions and deletions of these motifs, which cannot be described by a single hierarchy. This shows that mode-1 HOSVD modeling of rRNA alignments might be used to computationally predict evolutionary mechanisms.