Here's a partial answer, based more on common-sense then in-depth knowledge:
Physiological. One reason light is not required immediately is that many seeds are in essence bundles of stored energy (as carbohydrates, I suppose). This is what makes them attractive food for birds, squirrels, humans, etc. When they're able to escape that predation, the growing plant can use that stored energy, rather than relying only on sunlight.
Evolutionary. Seed dormancy can be a powerful tool for fitness – seeds that can remain dormant and germinate during favorable conditions could have a much higher survival rate. These conditions vary from simple: "spring" to more complex: "after having passed through the digestive system of a certain animal"; "after a forest fire"; "when there's a gap in canopy cover / less competition for solar energy". The cues that seeds "read" in order to try to break dormancy and germinate during these times therefore vary among species. Within species, there are probably often a number of cues, and as @Konrad Rudolph suggests these are probably all relatively "soft", or at least act in complex interaction with one another.