"The question is whether a mind or intelligence is required."
Right on! In my view, that is the most fundamental and important question of all. Of course, it is tantamount to asking whether or not God exists. I have wondered about this question over many years in the format of, "Is a conscious mind necessary for the development of all complex systems?" In my view, there are two categories of "complex systems": those developed by humans, and the "natural" ones which are not. It is obvious that for the human-developed ones, conscious minds are necessary. No 747 or nuclear submarine or telephone system was put together without deliberate conscious thought. But what about trees, gophers, galaxies, and other "natural" complex systems? Did they somehow arise without the need for conscious thought? Science has been trying to convince us for a couple hundred years now that the answer is "yes". I'm not buying that answer just yet.
Another way of posing the question is, "Which came first, mind or physical reality?" In other words, was mind the starting point and from there everything else was produced ("created") by that mind? Or was there something other than mind that started everything and minds only came much later as an epiphenomenon of brains?
In my view, if you think through the possible scenarios in both cases, the case for a primordial mind is much simpler and provides answers to all the hard questions. The case for an emergent mind leaves many more mysteries and does not answer hardly any of the hard questions of consciousness or humanity.
"Somehow I have always wondered if the laws of physics must be a priori. "
So have I! And, of course, so did Einstein and Hilbert (his Sixth Problem). In spite of much criticism from people who have not cited fatal flaws in Dr. Dick's work to my satisfaction, I have become convinced by Dick's result that the laws of physics are indeed a tautological consequence of the mathematics of numbers. If that is correct, then it is unavoidable that the physical universe behaves in mathematically describable ways if you assume a primordial mind. On the other hand, if you assume an emergent mind, then the fact that the universe is at all regular is a profound mystery.
"The laws of physics could be in some coded form like DNA that is not itself intelligence, more like instinct.
This is easier to comprehend if we believe that the universe is cyclic."
Easier to comprehend, maybe, but not easier to explain. You have to explain the existence of a very complex starting point: the vast system of cyclic states. In the primordial mind approach, there is no reason to suppose a very complex mind to start with. The primordial mind might learn, grow, and evolve just as every other complex system we know of does.
This view, of course, leads me to the conclusion that God (the commonly used name for this primordial mind) is neither immutable, nor perfect, nor infinite, nor complete, nor omnipotent, nor omniscient. And that conclusion explains most of the really hard problems, such as the existence of evil, that no religion has answered to my satisfaction.