"is the principle by which explanation of the universe is even possible. If we rid science of its ability to provide effective causes for phenomena, we would be left with definitions and not much more. However, if we assume that causation is a valid concept (which is, I think, more than reasonable), then we should ask what causes transitions from one material state to another material state."
We can ask, but drawing genuine beliefs from such shoddy evidence is a silly thing to do. I love speculating and mulling issues like this over. However, in the end I pride myself on having very few actual beliefs, just a whole lot of ideas. Harv, speculating about what caused our universe to form is one thing, calling it sentient because it sounds nicer that way, and then calling people like me deluded and hopeless is irritating. Sentience is a LOT to ask from anything. It appears to be a very rare commodity.
"If it is not the impact of material 'billiard balls' that provides persistent existence through time but it is principles of physics, then what keeps the principles from changing or ceasing altogether?"
What keeps mathemetical laws valid? I don't know. Perhaps once the universe burst into existence, laws solidified and became immobile. However, does a constant universe require a sentient principle? I think not.
"The story becomes even more complex in that principles are reducible to yet more general principles and so on. If the trend continues, it would seem that more and more general principles will be found, and either some unique general principle(s) will be seen as the Cause for all that exists, or the process is infinite (i.e., an infinite set of principles exist). I call these general set of principle(s) 'God'. "
We know nothing about these general principles. The best we can hope for is to look at the universe as it is and figure that it must have some traits in common with its source, and this is risky as it is. Calling the unifying laws of reality "God" is fine. Calling it loving and caring and sentient is quite another.
"The universe has a great deal more meaning to me to believe that Sentience is not only aware but actually providing hope for the universe"
Meaning isn't everything. The universe would mean more to me if Gods lived on Mount Olympus, directly intervening with human affairs. The universe would mean more to me if I interpreted lightning bolts as weapons of Zeus (and, based off this assumption, viewed lightning as absolute proof of divine existence) If "It sounds pleasant to me" is the basis of anyone's belief system, they should reexamine it.
"In addition, looking at the whole of what we see, I personally don't think one can realistically expect a random force or act to cause the world. There's absolutely millions of events that had to be 'just so' in order to bring about such wonderful events"
I should point out that you're using the argument by complexity. "This universe is so vast and wonderful, it needs a God." Well, it follows that if the creation is wonderful and complex, the creator must be at least that complex, if not more so. If I ask "Well, then doesn't God require a creator?" you'll say "No, God is infinite, he's been around forever." Well, if that can be true of God, why not matter and energy? Is an infinite procession of inanimacy an impossibility to you?